Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Black Gay Literature, 1984

The following is from a transcript I made from a broadcast I recorded off the radio and onto a cassette in 1984. The program was called "Ain't Misbehavin'" and dealt with black gay literature. It was broadcast on New York's WBAI-FM on July 25, 1984. The host was Isaac Jackson, co-founder of Blackheart, a black gay writers group. He spoke with poet/playwright Assotto Saint and poet Salih Michael Fisher.

Assotto Saint: "The people out there might ask," Is it necessary to have black gay art, black gay literature, all these categories?" Yes, it is. We are part of this world. It is necessary for other people to hear what we're all about, to hear us share our lives, and communication is forwarding the action. You need communication to survive. Black gays, white gays. You need to express who you are and if I can identify with white characters, I expect, I demand that an audience, that readers out there at least try to identify also with my black characters, with me as a person. I'm a human being. I bleed. I have feelings. That's something I demand as a human being."

Salih Michael Fisher: "I do feel a little frustrated when I have people questioning it [his work] as poetry and that's mainly been the white gay establishment when they say, 'Oh, it's too long' or 'It's about something I can't deal with. It's too heavy, too many images.' My poetry is a part of me and it's like saying, 'Well, I don't accept you' or 'I don't want to try to understand you.' So it comes down to being very personal. Those that have accepted it, it's been real gratifying. There's been more people who have accepted it than not. I don't look toward the gay establishment or the black literary [establishment] and say 'Why don't you do it for me?' I used to five years ago, but I'd rather do it for myself or do it under other people who want to put together black gay publications and who are black gay themselves and do it.

"The problem for black gay men is we are invisible, number one. They don't know our voices and our experiences. They assume that it's the Village gay experience and it's not always that all the time. And the closest one who has really come to it in literature is Yemonja, the publication by black men [of the Blackheart Collective in New York City] and also James Baldwin's Just Above My Head. There's one piece from there where the guy's describing being in love with this man. All the language and rhythm is like, right on. I'm tired of being defined by my male member which is [the majority of] what you see [of the] black man in gay society when you walk into these porno book stores.

"There is racism in gay white male literature that obviously gets overlooked. It's [considered] OK."

Isaac Jackson: "There needs to be an acceptance by heterosexuals of the fact that there are gay people writing. I think a lot of heterosexuals don't realize that there are book stores devoted entirely to literature of lesbians and gay men. A lot of straight people don't even know that because the tacit assumption in all our society's actions are that heterosexuality is the norm. You don't even have to announce the fact that you're heterosexual. You just go out there and do it and people assume that you are and that's the oppression that we are fighting against when we name ourselves publicly and let people know that we are black and gay and identify with gay people and black gay people particularly."

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